Three semesters ago, I applied to the Reese News Lab and interviewed for the spring internship. I knew from research that Reese News Lab was a combination of media, journalism and entrepreneurship. This combination tied my journalism major and entrepreneurship minor together perfectly.
When I applied, I was a semester into the entrepreneurship minor and was beginning to get a little big for my britches when it came to talking about lean business models and flashy entrepreneurial lingo. I had read Peter Drucker and Clay Christensen and knew the basics about pinpointing value and accessing the needs of a target population, but I had no real experience within a startup. That would all change.
Three semesters later, I have taken on three different roles within the Lab and gained so much from each. My time as a media research intern, marketing intern and now sales intern has been the most influential learning experience of my four years at UNC. Reese News Lab wove my entrepreneurial knowledge from my minor with real startup practice. Capitol Hound, my latest Reese News Lab project, has taught me more about running a startup than any other thus far.
The entrepreneurship minor teaches you theory and builds your knowledge of cases, but leaves out much of what we experience in the Lab. Capitol Hound was the first digital product I had ever fully operated, marketed and sold with a team. I had created pre-startups and written detailed business plans to be evaluated by professionals and professors, but Capitol Hound was a chance to see if I could successfully run a business.
First, what is Capitol Hound? Capitol Hound is a searchable audio archive and email alert system for the North Carolina General Assembly that allows subscribers access to the hours of audio streaming from the legislature. My five team members and I have been operating this system, developing marketing strategies and selling since January of this year. Now to some lessons I have learned from operating and selling a real product.
Mistakes have serious consequences
Through operating Capitol Hound, I have learned mistakes are OK, but you must learn from them and strive to never make them again. We have real subscribers and they depend on our accuracy and customer service to be of the highest quality.
When a mistake is made the entire team is negatively affected, and in addition the outside perception of Capitol Hound is at risk. My commitment to personal accountability has certainly increased through operating Capitol Hound.
Real customers = really hard work
We are not developing a plan with hypothetical subscribers with assumed emotions, but working with real people with real jobs to do. I quickly learned customer service is tough and time consuming. Customers expect everything to be done as soon as they make a request and for the most part we strive to do just that. It takes flexibility and diligent communication to make sure every issue is addressed by the end of the day. But it’s important to do that, because when it comes to marketing, your customers are your greatest assets and they should be happy.
Money is exciting/stressful
I was excited to work on Capitol Hound for multiple reasons. Two of the biggest were we had funding to operate and we could earn serious revenue for the future. This excitement still gets my blood pumping, but it is also partnered with a stress that every employee at a young startup faces: When will the money run out and where will the money come from?
Learning by doing
The last lesson I would like to harp on is that learning from doing is always the best route to answering the difficult questions. Unless you put your ideas into practice and record what works and needs to be adjusted, it is hard to arrive at a clear solution. Capitol Hound is a great example of learning from doing because we have been operating and adjusting our process the entire semester.
My time at UNC has been steeped in entrepreneurial thought and practice. My entrepreneurial minor taught me how to pitch, analyze and build a business plan. The Reese News Lab and specifically my time working on Capitol Hound built on that knowledge and tossed me head first into real startup situations.